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LADIES WITH LATITUDE: Five women making a difference in Kansas City performing arts

CAROLINE DAHM

Dancer, choreographer, producer, master teacher, adjunct dance professor at The UMKC Conservatory, assistant director at Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company

Photo by David Pugh

What I love about the Kansas City performing-arts scene: Kansas City is a very special place. Since moving here back in 2011, I have seen a steady rise in the arts. I love that the Kansas City arts scene is constantly growing, evolving, and supporting emerging artists. The audience here craves art.

What I would love to see more of in Kansas City arts: I would love to see more collaborations between artists of different mediums — and also within mediums. We are all striving for the same purpose: To share our story, others’ stories, to challenge thought, to inspire, and to find joy. We are only stronger together when we create together.

Where my passion comes from: My passion comes from the everyday human experience. Seeing the beauty in all things, interactions with people, the natural splendor of the world, but also life’s challenges and the inner workings of our mind that we dare to share through our artistic voice.

Current: I had the honor of choreographing for the Kansas City Ballet’s New Moves production in March. I will be creating a new work on SALT Contemporary Dance in Salt Lake City in May and a new work on Cincinnati Ballet in September. I perform with Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company and train the next generation of artists at The UMKC Conservatory and at Kansas City Ballet.

Contact: carolinedahm.com / Instagram: @sweetcarolinevd

NICOLE HODGES PERSLEY

Critically acclaimed theater and film director, professor of American Studies and African and African American Studies at The University of Kansas, artistic director at KC MeltingPot Theatre

What I love about the Kansas City performing-arts scene, and what I would love to see more of in Kansas City arts: I believe Kansas City has immense potential for more diverse and inclusive arts and theater offerings. I feel KC MeltingPot Theatre has helped advance this conversation in the city and we are seeing improvements for sure, but there is more work to be done. I would love to see more equitable and inclusive funding pathways that consider the unique contributions that artists of color offer in the city.

As we see a greater representation of voices, it would be great to see city and state funded initiatives that help to supplement the financial inequities that exist in the funding pathways for Kansas City artists and creators.

Where my passion comes from: My passion for the arts stems from a deep-seated belief in their power to transform individuals and communities. I have always been drawn to storytelling and the ability of theater to create empathy and understanding across cultural boundaries. I had the fortune of being mentored by Black artists in places like Detroit, Atlanta and Los Angeles who encouraged me to dream big dreams and to pursue them by any means necessary. I work to pay that passion forward to the artists I get to work with in Kansas City and beyond.

Current: Book talks for my recent book Hip-Hop in Musical Theatre (Bloomsbury, 2024); the launch of createensemble.com, an arts platform co-founded with Monica White Ndounou and Victorien Ndounou; KCMPT’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? directed by Ile Haggins (May 2nd through the 11th), in a special version amended by Edward Albee for a production at Howard University to support an all-Black cast.

Contact: hodgespersley.com / Instagram: @nikstagedoc

HEIDI VAN

Actor, creator, and producer of experimental live theater, owner/operator/CEO of The Black Box, founder and curator of Fishtank Theatre, and former interim artistic director at The Coterie Theatre

What I love about the Kansas City performing-arts scene: I love Kansas City for its eclectic independent arts scene and artist-run spaces. Within this thriving community, there is an unmistakable fusion of creativity and authenticity that truly embodies the essence of the city’s grit and spirit.

What I would love to see more of in Kansas City arts: To truly evolve, Kansas City must embrace and bolster support for independent artists and artist-run spaces, and not just the prominent establishments. By recognizing us as pivotal to the city’s tourism draw, nightlife vibrancy, and cultural enrichment, we foster a symbiotic relationship that champions creativity and inclusivity. As proud residents and creators, we invest our sweat and ideas and money into shaping this city, enriching its tapestry with businesses and ventures that make it truly compelling. It’s time to showcase us, the artists, with the same spotlight and recognition as athletes.

Where my passion comes from: My lifelong love affair with show-business fuels my boundless passion for The Black Box. Picture it: the ultimate hotspot where every night is an electrifying fusion of musical theater, cabaret, and avant-garde experimentation: which sparks laughter, conversation, and unforgettable moments. We present a wide variety, from classical theater to contemporary theater, live music and more. Patrons are always amazed and inspired by the vibe of the entryway to the theater — check it out!

Current: We have shows at The Black Box every weekend. Visit blackboxkc.com to stay in the loop: Each show promises a thrilling journey that will leave you buzzing with excitement, all while sipping on your favorite cocktail.

Contact: blackboxkc.com / Instagram: @theheidivan

 

TATIANA IOUDENITCH

Pianist, teacher, and owner/director of Young Artists Music Academy

What I love about KC arts life: The Kansas City performing arts scene holds a special place in my heart. Since making Kansas City my home in 1998, I’ve enjoyed the flourishing arts life, with great concert series and fantastic artists — both visiting artists and those who call this their home. Our Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is one of my favorite venues in Kansas City!

What I would love to see more of in Kansas City arts: Being a teacher and a performer for many years, I believe that the most important investment for the future of Kansas City arts life is high-quality music education. If we want our beautiful concert halls to be filled with people in 10 or 20 years, we should work today to provide music education. I would love to see more opportunities for young artists to be part of our arts community.

Where my passion comes from: Music and arts have been my passion since I can remember. They contain endless beauty, depth, and natural perfection, and I am very passionate to introduce and make music an important part of the life of every student and every friend of mine.

Current: The Park University International Center for Music recently presented Pianist Behzod Abduraimov and Violinist Daniel Lozakovich, on April 14th at The 1900 Building.

Contact: youngartistsmusicacademy.org / admissions@youngartistsmusicacademy.org

CHRISTY ELSNER

Singer, choral director, and founding artistic director of Allegro Choirs of Kansas City

What I love about the Kansas City performing-arts scene: Our Metro arts scene is vibrant and energized, especially in the choral world! We have multiple opportunities for our young singers to collaborate with professional musicians and arts organizations: the Kansas City Symphony, William Baker Festival Singers, area schools and universities, and more.

Allegro is filled with singers from excellent school music programs. Kansas City is also blessed to have stellar venues including the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Yardley Hall at Midwest Trust Center, the downtown Cathedrals, Visitation Catholic Church and others.

What I would love to see more of in Kansas City arts: The Kansas City arts scene is sometimes over-shadowed financially and in the news by our hot sports scene. General operating and scholarship funding are always huge needs: area non-profit organizations fight for few funds.

Where my passion comes from: Unwavering pursuit of excellence extends, for my entire staff, beyond singing: We fuel each other. I was blessed with the gift of communicating/teaching and motivating others. I lost my dad to a massive stroke my junior year of college: He was only 48. My desire to change the world with song, and my passion for living every minute to its fullest, became cemented with the loss of my dad at such a young age.

We as a society often underestimate what kids/teens can do. It’s a fun challenge to break norms. I love to see the “light” turn on in a singer’s brain and heart!

Current: Next year is Allegro’s 25th anniversary! Allegro Choirs of Kansas City, in partnership with the Youth Chorus of Kansas City, recently held the first ever All-Metro Fifth Grade Honor Choir, with over 100 singers from 27 area schools; Washington, D.C. and National Cathedral Tour; debut solo performance of our choirs at Carnegie Hall (2025); continued performance engagements with the Kansas City Symphony.

Contact: allegrochoirskc.org / Instagram: @christyelsner

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